Following an exceptionally wet Spring, the Paradise Valley is looking greener than ever. Contrast the lush green against the burned area of last summer’s Pine Creek Fire, and the landscape takes on a striking mix of colors and textures. The fields of farmers and ranchers are doing well, too, and the Yellowstone River has been tame thus far. This is the view from the air on June 16, 2013.
An evening flight along the western front of the Absaroka Range. Taking advantage of calm evening air, we flew up to about 11,000 feet to visit the tops of the highest peaks. We were treated to views of massive cornices, recent avalanches, and undisturbed, pillowy snowfields resting on steep granite slopes. There is nothing quite so beautiful as rugged mountains waiting for Spring to arrive.
“Although the scenery is so rugged and grand, yet an air of desolation reigns over the whole. Perpetual snow is seen everywhere, and the somber nakedness of the volcanic peaks adds to the gloom, but toward evening the setting sun envelopes them with such a delicate golden haze that one seems wafted into the land of enchantment.” -Ferdinand Hayden on the view of the Northern Absaroka from Daisy Pass, 1872.
Seeking some desolation of our own, we made a Saturday-night reservation for Pine Edge Cabin #4 in Silver Gate, Montana. Three hours of driving, much of it through nearly-deserted Yellowstone Park, and we arrived in the heart of Northern Absaroka country. Pronounced “ab-zor-uh-kuh,” the word is a Euro-American version of the name the Crow Indians use to describe themselves, “Apsa’alooke,” translating to “children of the large-beaked bird.” These mountains had their beginnings as ancient volcanic lava, mudflows, and ash, a characteristic that drew countless mineral explorers in the late 1800s, some finding gold. Such prospectors likely climbed many of the local mountains here, sporting names like Pollux, Notch, Cutoff, Pilot, Abiathar, and Silvertip. The most notable early geographer was Frank Tweedy, who was charged with mapping the region when it was made part of the Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve by President Harrison in 1891. These days, with mining in the past, Silver Gate and the nearby town of Cooke City owe their continued existence to travelers on the Beartooth Scenic Highway (open only in Summer), as well as winter recreationists. Such was the reason for our visit. Peace and quiet, cross-country skiing, and some spectacular star-gazing.
History from “Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone,” by Thomas Turiano.
It’s not very often that I get to work on a project that is as collaborative, technically challenging, and high-visibility as this one. In 2011 I started working with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust in Bozeman to revamp their pocket-sized parks and trails map. The goal was to combine the locations of trails, parks, playgrounds, landmarks, and conservation easements with a road map that could be used by locals and visitors alike. The toughest data layers to work with were the roads, trails, and parks. Each had been created at different scales via on-screen digitizing and GPS, thus requiring quite a bit of editing in ArcMap. I smoothed a 10-meter NED elevation model with a low-pass filter, resampled to 5 meters, then ran a standard hillshade. From there, all of the work was done in Illustrator. I stuck with a neutral hillshade tint and coordinated the rest of the colors using Adobe color pairing tools. The 18- by 24-inch map is for sale at many stores around Bozeman, with the $2 purchase price going towards parks and trails programs.
GVLT then wanted to revamp the information kiosks they have installed around town. Each kiosk contains a map and assorted information about the Bozeman trail system. The fun part of making these maps was working with a local graphic artist, Molly Stratton, to come up with a design that not only communicates clearly but also supports the branding efforts of GVLT and the City of Bozeman. Being a vibrant, outdoors-as-a-brand kind of town, the displays needed to be fresh, organic, and effective in various types of installations across town. I tend to choose earthy, neutral versions of color in my work, and Molly likes vibrancy and personality. I think her choices elevated what would otherwise have been fairly understated maps to a level that will instead encourage engagement by viewers as they explore the trail system. These will start popping up all over town, and I can’t wait to see folks checking them out with their friends and families. They have incorporated a lot of thought and feedback, on both the content and design sides, and we couldn’t be happier.
It’s tough to beat the perspective offered by a plane.
The earliest mapmakers could only dream of wondrous machines that might lift them above the earth, giving them a perspective of the landscape that only birds knew. These days, we take it for granted that aerial technology lets us see our planet from every possible angle, with no terrain too remote or too rugged to map and measure.
Some friends of mine are working hard to reinvigorate a fixture of the Paradise Valley, the Flying Y airport. Located between Livingston and Gardiner, Montana, the airport consists of a couple of hangars and a gravel landing strip lit by 100-watt household light bulbs. Not a shrub or tree can be found to prohibit a commanding view of the entire west flank of the Northern Absaroka mountains. Here, bunchgrasses are in charge, thanks to the wind and aridity. Air rushing down off the Yellowstone Plateau creates fickle crosswinds that challenge pilots as they try to lift or land their Cessnas and Piper Cubs.
All the more fun to be a passenger, however. I look forward to sharing more pictures as I start seeing my home from a whole new perspective.
Having made several hurried drives through British Columbia over the years, our goal for this trip was to cover fewer miles and see more. We also wanted to avoid the popular parks, and we wanted to drive as many gravel roads as were feasible. The 10-day trip included some camping, hiking, and kayaking, as well as a couple of nights at a cozy bed and breakfast. It was fantastic to just go where the map atlas led us. We visited some great little towns and made some new friends along the way. I also didn’t stress about taking gigabytes of photos. The lazy summer pace got the best of me, so not everything was documented. But here are a few favorites…
One hike in particular found us high in Glacier National Park, desperately trying to reach one of the remaining frozen icons of the Rocky Mountains. Despite miles of hiking, we only caught a glimpse. It takes more and more effort to touch a glacier these days. It’s either climb higher or drive further north. On this trip we could do neither – but just being in the high mountain valleys that hold these relics of the last ice age was enough for us.